“It’s a racial justice issue”: Advisory group recommends elimination of elementary school students’ suspensions

More than a dozen other options for discipline are already listed as options per the district’s policy manual
Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 10:28 PM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - There’s a new push to have school suspensions removed as a punishment option for elementary school students in New Hanover County.

The New Hanover County NAACP Parents’ Council is asking the New Hanover County Board of Education to eliminate school suspensions as a form of disciplinary action in favor of those alternatives that they say get to the real reason for a child’s bad behavior.

“Those can include having a student conference, working on a behavior contract, giving instruction on conflict resolution or anger management, maybe a small group meeting with a school counselor,” said council member Peter Rawitsch.

More than a dozen other options for discipline are already listed as options per the district’s policy manual.

Another council member, George Vlasits, believes it is a racial justice and education equity issue.

“The problem with suspensions, particularly in elementary schools, are that they don’t work,” he said. “They don’t improve behavior and they don’t improve the school climate.”

They say data shows black students are disproportionately suspended from school.

“This is a racial justice issue and the school board has taken the position of wanting to root out systemic racism; well, here we can start at the beginning,” Vlasits said.

“My hope for the school board is that they will look at the data, share that with the community and make a decision that is on the side of justice,” Rawitsch said.

While they would support eliminating suspensions at all grade levels, they believe starting with the youngest students is a move in the right direction.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Vlasits said.” Nobody said it’s easy or that it’ll just happen overnight, but the point is that by taking that option away it forces people to look at other options rather than taking what I would argue is the easy way out.”

The policy committee is reviewing dozens of policies for the school district.

“We need more school counselors in the building and we need to create a school climate that is focused not on punitive measures, but in ways of uplifting students, giving them voice and supporting them, especially as young learners, to acquire these positive and appropriate behaviors in the classroom,” Rawitsch said.

The Board of Education is expected to vote on some of the proposed changes at their meeting on March 2.

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